US State Department Warns Rwandan Paul Kagame Against Changing Constitution for a Third Term

Paul Kagame in Dar-es-Salaam

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The United States will not support African dictators bent on changing the constitutions of the countries to allow themselves to cling onto power, the US State Department said in a statement on Friday, September 4, 2015 by State Department Spokesperson John Kirby . The statement condemned Rwanda’s Parliament and President Paul Kagame for the decision to " establish a Constitutional Reform Commission that may amend or remove executive term limits and permit President Kagame to seek a third term in 2017."

The statement by the US State Department immediately drew a scathing reply from the self styled Rwandan Foreign Minister, Louise

Mushikiwabo. Reacting on social networks, Louise Mushikiwabo sarcastically noted that the statement by the US State Department recognized that it was for Rwandan citizens to decide.
However, it appeared she did not read or decided to ignore the entire statement. In fact, the US State Department added that" We [the United States Government] respect the ability of any parliament to pass legislation that reflects the will of the people it is elected to represent; however, we continue to firmly support the principle of democratic transition of power in all countries through free, fair, and credible elections, held in accordance with constitutions, including provisions regarding term limits. We do not support those in positions of power changing constitutions solely for their political self-interest."

Once supported by the United States, the Rwandan dictator Paul Kagame has, since 2012, been viewed with some suspicion by Washington and is often referred to a ruthless dictator, whose methods may lead to cyclical untold human tragedies in the Great Lakes Regions of Africa.

The Statement highlighted that concern by reminding that "As President Obama has stated, “When a leader tries to change the rules in the middle of the game just to stay in office, it risks instability and strife – as we’ve seen in Burundi. And this is often just a first step down a perilous path.”"

The statement was referring to the positions taken by President Barack Obama during his last trip to Africa (see our article Nobody Should Be President For Life, President Obama Tells African Dictators).

The position by US State Department appears unequivocal. However, the reaction by the Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo may be an indication of things to come. Will the Rwandan dictator, General Paul Kagame, decide to walk in the path of other African dictators, such as Ugandan Yoweri Museveni, who have managed to change the constitution of their countries and allow themsleves to remain in power for life?

It is unclear whether the US strategy will succeed. It did not with Pierre Nkurunziza in Burundi, it is in doubt with Joseph Kabila in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and it is likely to fail with Sassou Nguesso in Congo Brazzaville and Paul Biya in Cameroon.
However, what is certain is that the divide between General Paul Kagame and the US administration is worsening.